In November I attended the American Association for State and Local History Virtual Conference. On each day (there were three) it opened with a plenary, and day two featured Jason Steinhauer author of History Disrupted: How Social Media and the World Wide Web Have Changed the Past. His presentation focused on the many, many ways these aspects of the internet have changed how the public thinks about history, how historians communicate (or don’t), and the implications for those of us in the public history sphere and those of us not.
Before the end of his presentation, I had already requested his book through interlibrary loan. Steinhauer’s presentation was a distillation of the book, and he shared his insights into the opportunities and challenges facing public historians as we communicate with public audiences across a growing array of media and social media channels. A very big part of me wishes I had left well enough alone and focused solely on his 90-minute presentation and the resources he laid out in it, because I found the book difficult to get through and while it does flesh out the research that went into crafting his points as well as expand on them, it felt oddly clinical.
Perhaps this was a problem of hopes and expectations. I wanted a book that could be used as a plan for making the changes Steinhauer’s study of the social media ecosystem and history’s place within the sheer amount of content being created each day dictate our field needs to be doing, because the social web is not going to wait for professional historians (notoriously a expert-centric, intellectual pursuit and relies on intrinsic value whereas the social web is user-centric, data driven commercial enterprise that is instantly gratifying and privileges extrinsic value) to get comfortable. In some probably important ways, we’re already dreadfully behind, perhaps too far. But this wasn’t that, or if it was, I didn’t manage to hang on long enough to find out.